Hey Siri, what’s the “Weather Report?”

On my way to work this morning, I asked Siri “what’s the weather report?” and instead of telling me “cloudy and 35 degrees” I got “Birdland” by the jazz-fusion group Weather Report.

I was not disappointed.

This is one of my favorite tracks of all time. As much as Steely Dan defined the sound of the late 70s and early 80s for me, Weather Report – and specifically “Birdland” – was right in that mix. There’s so much going on in the studio recording; it’s jazzy and funky and boppy one after the other. The chord runs are amazing.

I found this 1978 video recording of a Weather Report concert in Germany at the Stadthalle Offenbach and learned for the first time that the high-pitched notes at the beginning of the piece, which I always assumed was an electric guitar was bassist Jaco Pastorius plucking his electric bass close to the pickups while fingering it like… well, like an electric guitar. Pastorius also provides the high-pitched vocals, which I also never realized. Both he and drummer Alex Acuña go shirtless as well, which is pretty unusual for a jazz performance.

This live performance has more of a swing feel to it than the studio recording, but it’s still very cool:

Pastorius was quite a character. As he was recording his first solo album, he attended a Weather Report concert and afterwards introduced himself to the band with “I’m John Francis Pastorius the Third, and I’m the greatest bass player in the world.” When the bass spot opened up when Alphonso Johnson left, he became Weather Report’s second bass player just in time to record “Birdland,” which was written by keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Unfortunately, a combination of drug and alcohol abuse and the discovery that Pastorius was bipolar led to a series of bizarre events that ultimately resulted in his death in a bar fight in 1987 at the age of only 35.

Cardboard Tigers: T. Walker, G. Wilson, Wockenfuss

Seventeenth and last in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Tom Walker – 1976 Topps #186

Tom Walker pitched in 36 games for the 1975 Tigers, starting 9 of them and finishing 17 others. He had a 3-8 record, a 4.45 ERA, and didn’t record a single save despite closing out those 17 contests. He came to Detroit in the deal that sent Woodie Fryman to Montréal that also brought Terry Humphrey to the Tigers. To be honest, though I followed the Tigers pretty closely in the mid-seventies, I don’t have any memory of Tom Walker with the team at all.

While this is Tom’s 1976 Topps card, by the time the spring training started that year he was with the Cardinals, who purchased his contract that February. He spent most of the season in Tulsa as a starter, but ended up saving three games for the big league team in only 19 2/3 innings. He split 1977 with Montreal again, then the California Angels, before briefly playing for the Columbus Clippers (then the Pirates’ AAA farm team) in 1978.

Tom’s career was fairly uneventful, other than the uniqueness of the final batter he faced in the big leagues, as Lyman Bostock lined into a triple play. He had a 18-23 lifetime record with a 3.87 ERA and struck out 262 batters.

In 1972, Walker was one of several major leaguers who helped Roberto Clemente load an airplane full of food and other supplies destined for Nicaragua after the Christmas earthquake that winter. Tom offered to go along to assist with the distribution, but Clemente told him to stay home and enjoy his New Year’s Eve celebration. When he returned home, Walker found out that Clemente’s plane had crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Walker’s son, Neil, was a second baseman for the Pirates, Mets, Brewers, Yankees, Marlins, and Phillies over an eleven-year major league career.

Of more significance to Tigers’ fans is the fact that Tom’s daughter Carrie married former Tiger Don Kelly (currently the bench coach for the Pirates), making Tom his father-in-law and Neil his brother-in-law.

Glenn Wilson – 1984 Topps #563
Johnny Wockenfuss – 1984 Topps #119

Glenn Wilson and Johnny Wockenfuss finish out our Cardboard Tigers series due to the fact that their last names put them at the bottom of the deck. Coincidentally, they share a connection beyond having names near the end of the alphabet: They were traded together at the end of spring training in 1984 to the Phillies for first baseman Dave Bergman and closer Willie Hernandez. Bergman, of course, was a key utility component for the Tigers’ World Series championship team, playing first base and the corner outfield spots while hitting .273 in 121 at-bats, while all Hernandez did was win both the Cy Young Award and American League MVP while saving 32 games and posting an ERA of 1.92.

So again, as we’ve seen several times in this series, the cards for the 1984 Tigers feature a lot of guys who weren’t even on that team, including Wilson and Wockenfuss.

Wilson was coming off a good season for Detroit in 1983 where he hit .268 with 11 homers, playing 144 games in mostly right field with a few appearances in left and center. He went on to have a decent year in Philly in ’84 as well, but his best year was 1985, when he hit .275, knocked in 104 runs, made the National League All-Star team, and finished 23rd in the NL MVP voting. He played through 1990 with the Phillies, Mariners, Pirates, and Astros, and made a brief comeback in 1994 with Pittsburgh. For his career, he batted .265 with 98 home runs, and 521 RBI. He also pitched once: in 1987 he threw a 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout, giving him a lifetime 0.00 ERA.

After retiring from baseball, Wilson owned a gas station in Texas, managed independent league baseball in the Frontier League, and became an ordained minister.

Wockenfuss was tougher for me to deal with when he was traded to Philadelphia. He was one of my favorite Tigers, having been with the team since 1974, mostly as Bill Freehan’s (and later Lance Parrish’s) backup at catcher, and platooning for a couple of years with Milt May. He was versatile, making appearances in the outfield and at first base and serving as a capable designated hitter when needed as well. While he only averaged around 200 plate appearances per season (the exception was 1980, when he had 444 plate appearances while playing mostly first base – also his best season as he hit .274 with 16 homers and 65 RBI), he was always fun to watch, with his curly hair and mustache making him stand out on the field. As a catcher myself, Wockenfuss was they guy whose receiving style I copied. He also had a rather unusual batting stance, which I also copied (not that it did me any good). I was pretty upset when the Tigers traded him, especially right before the team headed north from Florida.

In the end, I got over it, considering the great start the 1984 team got off to and the contributions from both Bergman and Hernandez. Wockenfuss had a good year in Philadelphia, hitting .289 in 180 at-bats, playing mostly first base with some catcher and a couple of brief appearances at third base. He finished his major league career in 1985 with the Phillies at the age of 35. For his career, he hit .262 with 86 home runs, and 310 RBI.

In 1986, however, Wockenfuss decided he wasn’t done quite yet and paid his own way to Lakeland, hoping the Tigers would give him a shot. When they weren’t interested, he headed down the road to Winter Haven to see if the Red Sox would be willing, but they also said no. So he caught on with the Single-A Miami Marlins of the Florida State League, who in those days had no major league affiliation. He spent the whole season in south Florida, hitting .269 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI and was considered the “anchor of the Marlins’ team,” according to Miami sportswriter Tom Archdeacon.

After finally ending his playing career, he managed the Lakeland Tigers (A) in 1986 and 1987; the Glens Falls Tigers (AA) in 1988; and the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) in 1989. He was fired early in the 1990 season after the Mud Hens got off to a 10-14 start, but later managed in the Pirates’ minor league system and with the independent Albany-Colonies Diamond Dogs in 1996-97.

Today, Wockenfuss, 72, suffers from dementia, believed to be a product of years of head contact as a football and baseball player, especially at the catcher position. His former teammate, Bill Freehan, also suffered from dementia for several years before his death this summer at the age of 79. He does remember much about his baseball career, though, including the disappointment he felt when the Tigers traded him in 1984. When his former team went on to win the World Series, Wockenfuss was frustrated with how close he’d come to winning a championship.

“I knew I was (close to) getting a (World Series) ring, you know, and that hurt, because I had been with them for so many years,” Wockenfuss said. “We were getting better and better and better and Sparky (manager Sparky Anderson) and I were good friends. I couldn’t believe it what he did to me. Because I was in the minors for a long time.”

From NNY360.com, November 18, 2019, article by Gregory Gay

MTV hits the big 4-0

Where were you 40 years ago? Were you anxiously awaiting the launch – at midnight on August 1, 1981 – of Music Television, better known as MTV?

Were you born? If you did exist on Earth back then, were you old enough to remember this august (pun intended) moment in American cultural history?

I am old enough to remember the start of the MTV phenomenon, though I did not witness the launch personally. The availability of cable television wasn’t widespread in 1981, especially in urban areas. So in Pontiac, Michigan, where I grew up, our TV choices were still limited to over-the-air broadcasts from stations mostly in Detroit:

2WJBKCBSDetroit
4WDIVNBCDetroit
7WXYZABCDetroit
9CBETCBCWindsor, Ontario
20WXONIndependentDetroit
50WKBDIndependentDetroit
56WTVSPBSDetroit
62WGPRIndependentDetroit

Here’s how the Detroit Free Press noted the upcoming launch of MTV two days before it started:

Detroit Free Press, Thursday, July 29, 1981, page 12B

An interesting note about cable TV availability: I was listening to the original MTV video jocks (Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter – the fifth original VJ, J.J. Jackson, died in 2004) chat about MTV’s start on SiriusXM’s “80s on 8” yesterday, and they recalled that they had to travel to Fort Lee, New Jersey during the evening on July 31, where they went to a restaurant that had cable since it wasn’t yet available in Manhattan. They’d been taping their segments that would appear between the videos, but really weren’t sure what MTV was going to look like until the channel started at 12:01 a.m.

My first exposure to MTV was about a month later when I went off to Central Michigan University for my freshman year. As noted in Bettelou Peterson’s Free Press item above, Mt. Pleasant was one of the Michigan cities that had cable and was going to have MTV on their lineup. So when I got to my dorm (the late, great Tate Hall), some of my new dorm mates were aware of the channel already. The dorm had only one cable connection, located in the basement hangout room, where it was attached to a then-quite-large 24” diagonal color television.

I spent a bit of time down there watching, but frankly, I was more into radio and didn’t see the attraction of watching music instead of just listening to it. But some of our classmates spent way too much time down there, and it was apparent that the concept definitely had appeal.

During “Welcome Week,” in fact, the university’s Program Board, which organized music and other cultural events on campus, held a “video watch” event in the Kiva space in Moore Hall. Music videos were projected onto a screen. About 100 people showed up and a good time was had by all.

By the time my radio career got started in 1982, first at campus station WCHP and then at WCFX-FM in Clare, MTV was already affecting how music was being marketed and consumed by fans. MTV’s popularity profoundly influenced what it took to be a successful popular music artist. While it never hurt to be physically attractive before, visual image became even more important in an era when your song absolutely had to have a video to have any chance of getting played, not just on MTV but on the radio as well.

Change is often gradual, and it’s hard to point out exactly when our culture started moving in a different direction. But August 1, 1981, was a pivotal moment in American society when the rocket took off and MTV started burrowing into our collective consciousness.

Norman Lloyd, 1914-2021

At my not-terribly-advanced-but-hardly-a-spring-chicken age, I’m starting to see more and more of my contemporaries dying. Where “58” seemed like a fairly ripe old age when I was in my twenties, it now seems more like “died way too young.” I realize that, using standards of American male life expectancy as my yardstick, I’m definitely in the last foot or so.

But then there’s Norman Lloyd.

Mr. Lloyd died yesterday at the age of 106. He was an actor, director, and producer, on stage, on radio, on film, and on television for eight decades. He worked closely with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. He may be best known to television viewers of my generation as the wise Dr. Auschlander in NBC’s St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988 (where his co-stars included Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Adams himself, William Daniels).

According to his friend Dean Hargrove, who confirmed Lloyd’s death to Variety, Lloyd claimed his longevity was due to “avoiding disagreeable people.”

Now there’s some good advice. Thanks, Norman Lloyd, for an amazing life.

Cardboard Tigers: Trucks, Veryzer, L. Walker

Sixteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Virgil Trucks
Virgil Trucks – 1994 Upper Deck #39

This is a special historical card produced by Upper Deck during the 1994 season, which was major league baseball’s 125th anniversary. My son was briefly interested in baseball cards around 2001 or so and traded with a friend for this one because it was a Detroit player. His interest soon faded and I ended up with his small collection, so here ya go.

Virgil Trucks was a very good pitcher for the Tigers from 1941 to 1952, and then again in 1956. He won 114 and lost 96 for Detroit, had a 3.50 ERA, and struck out 1046 batters over 1800 2/3 innings of work. He was an American League All-Star in 1949 and finished in the top 30 for MVP voting twice.

He was known, for obvious reasons, as “Fire,” and at the time this card was printed in 1994, was one of only four pitchers to throw two no-hitters in the same season. His came in 1952, no-hitting the Washington Senators on May 15 and then the Yankees on August 25. He came close to a third, one-hitting the Senators on July 22. Interestingly, Trucks only won five games total that season, finishing 5-19 on a Tigers squad that went 50-104.

The other pitchers who had two no-hitters in the same season are Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds in 1938 (and his were in consecutive games), Allie Reynolds of the Yankees in 1951, and Nolan Ryan of the Angels in 1973 (his second one came at the expense of the Tigers on July 15). In 2010, Roy Halladay of the Phillies threw a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, then he no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. So technically, he threw two no-hitters in the same year, but not in the same regular season, but that’s quibbling. You go throw a no-hitter, then you can split hairs over records.

Halladay died in 2017 at the age of 40 after a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. His lifetime stats certainly were worthy of the Hall: 203-105 record, 3.38 ERA, 2117 strikeouts. But here are Virgil Trucks’ career stats: 177-135, 3.39 ERA, 1534 strikeouts. Somewhat comparable, but Trucks only got two percent of the votes in his only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1964. His “Hall Rating” on hallofstats.com is 82, which is short of the benchmark of 100 the site uses to determine whether someone is Hall-worthy. Halladay’s Hall Rating is 138, so his election was obviously more than just sentimentality after his untimely death.

Trucks was traded to the St. Louis Browns before the 1953 season, and then the Brownies traded him to the White Sox that June. After the 1955 season, they traded him back to the Tigers along with some guys for some other guys. From there, Detroit traded him to the Kansas City A’s before the 1957 season, and the A’s dealt him to the Yankees in June 1958. The Yankees released him during spring training the following year.

He missed the entire 1944 season and only appeared in one game in 1945 due to military service in World War II. He did, however, get to pitch in the 1945 World Series as the Tigers beat the Cubs, four game to three, to win their second championship.

Trucks’ nephew, Butch Trucks, was a drummer and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Two great-nephews are also musicians: Duane Trucks, drummer for Widespread Panic; and Derek Trucks, who performs with his wife Susan Tedeschi as the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

Virgil Trucks died in March 2013 in Calera, Alabama, at the age of 95.

Tom Veryzer
Tom Veryzer – 1976 Topps #432

Tom Veryzer was a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop with Detroit from 1973 to 1977. Billy Martin, who was the manager of the Tigers in 1973, called him “the best looking young shortstop I’ve ever seen.” Others compared him to Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner and predicted he would be one of the five best shortstops in major league history.

And at least in the field, they came close to being right. His career Range Factor at shortstop of 4.84 is 25th best ever. Unfortunately, his batting prowess never matched his skill with the glove. When he was called up in 1973, he mostly rode the bench behind starting shortstop Ed Brinkman. In 1974, he again spent most of the year in the minors, only appearing in 22 games with the big club. The Tigers traded Brinkman before the 1975 season and the job was Veryzer’s. He had a solid season at the plate, hitting .252 with five home runs and 48 RBI in 404 at-bats. Injuries limited him to only 97 games in 1976, then a terrible start to the 1977 season, in which he his .197 overall, found him splitting playing time with Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener. And when you’re losing playing time to Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener, the writing is on the wall.

Detroit traded him to Cleveland during the off-season, which opened the shortstop spot to a youngster named Alan Trammell. In Cleveland, Veryzer had his two best seasons, in 1978 and 1980, hitting .271 both years and playing outstanding shortstop. He finished his career with the Mets in 1982 and the Cubs in 1983-84; if the Cubs had beaten the Padres in the NLCS that year, he might have played against his old team in the World Series.

For his career, Veryzer hit .241 with 14 homers and 231 RBI. He died in July 2014 in Islip, New York, at the age of 61 after suffering a stroke.

Luke Walker
Luke Walker TRADED – 1974 Topps #612T

Luke Walker pitched for eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1965 to 1974, mostly as a reliever with occasional spot starts. His best season was 1970, when he went 15-6 with a 3.04 ERA and finished tenth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. In 1971, he took a no-hitter deep into a game against the Dodgers, but Joe Ferguson hit a home run (the first of his career) leading off the ninth. The Pirates won the World Series that year, and Walker started Game 4, which was the first World Series game played at night. It didn’t go well for him, as he gave up three hits, walked two (one intentionally), and was charged with three earned runs in only two-thirds of an inning, giving him a career ERA in the World Series of 40.50.

Walker was a solid pitcher, but was terrible at the plate. He had only eleven hits in 188 at-bats in his career for an impressive .059 batting average. One day at Three Rivers Stadium, Walker actually got a hit and the home crowd cheered. Hank Aaron, who was near the end of his career in the National League, thought the cheering might be for him and he tipped his cap to the crowd. Walker said, “Put your hat back on, Hank, they’re cheering for me.”

Despite the “TRADED” label on this card (not to mention the snappy airbrushing on his cap and neck piping), the Pirates actually sold Walker’s contract to Detroit before the 1974 season. He went 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 28 appearances, nine of them starts. The Tigers released him at the end of spring training in 1975.